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With Luetkemeyer's win, the 9th congressional district stays red

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: November 5, 2008 - Despite a Democratic wave that swept Barack Obama into the presidency and Jay Nixon into the governorship, Blaine Luetkemeyer stayed afloat and kept the 9th congressional district in Republican hands with a narrow win.

"It's been a long campaign, a very bitter campaign," Luetkemeyer said. But in the end, he said, they feel humbled and rewarded.

Luetkemeyer beat Democrat rival Judy Baker, a Columbia state rep with a health-care background and a polished, on-message campaign.

It was a difficult night for House Republicans, who were vastly outspent by the other party, and who suffered from the unpopularity of their party's leader, President George W. Bush. At least 13 new Democrats are projected to join the House, and the number could rise into the 20s before the counting is complete. Vulnerable first-term Democrats in the House were re-elected in Kentucky and Indiana.

But in the bi-state area, Republican incumbents held their own. Reps. Todd Akin in St. Louis County and Rep. John Shimkus in Illinois were re-elected. Democratic incumbents also won, including Reps. William Lacy Clay and Russ Carnahan in the St. Louis area, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, in Kansas City and Rep. Jerry Costello in Illinois. Luetkemeyer won St. Charles County, while Baker kept the lead in Boone County. In the end, Luetkemeyer won 50 percent of the votes, 47.5 went to Baker, and 2.5 to independent candidate Tamara Millay.

From the beginning, Luetkemeyer had the best chance in this Republican-leaning district, which represents parts of St. Charles County, Columbia and the rural borders of Illinois and Iowa. The 9th twice elected George W. Bush for president.

"This district leans conservative," Luetkemeyer said. And he thinks his pro-life, pro-guns, limited-government approach resonated.

Luetkemeyer replaces Kenny Hulshof, who lost his seat and his bid tonight for governor to Nixon. Hulshof was first elected in 1996, and in 2006 won with 61.44 percent of the vote. Before that, Democrat Harold Volkmer governed for 20 years.

In the primaries, Luetkemeyer beat out four other Republicans.

Baker beat three other Democrats.

Luetkemeyer, from St. Elizabeth, was a member of the Missouri House of Representatives from 1998 to 2004. From 2006 until this year, he served as the director of Missouri Division of Tourism.

Once in office, Luetkemeyer plans on tackling oil and gas prices and creating a national energy policy.

But with a Democratic president and congress, Luetkemeyer also knows he's got another wave against him.

"Obviously it's gonna be a little difficult to get a lot done with those folks in power," he said. "We'll just have to work with them when we can."

Judy Baker did not answer calls for comment.

A Bitter Campaign Til the Very end

Baker and Luetkemeyer haven't been slinging mud at each other as election day nears. 

They've been slinging family members.

It started with an ad by Baker, a Democrat running for the open seat in Missouri's 9th congressional district. The ad from state Rep. Baker accused Luetkemeyer of trying to cut funding for mammograms, among other things.

Luetkemeyer, the Republican running for the seat, slung back with an ad featuring his oldest daughter, photos of his mother, a cancer survivor, and his father, who currently has cancer. It's called "Shame on you, Judy Baker."

Baker's mother and sisters are both cancer survivors, she told KOMU-TV in Columbia.

"It's been rather nasty," Luetkemeyer says. "We've traded a lot of nasty barbs between us."

All this comes as the end nears for one of the country's top races to watch, according to Congressional Quarterly.

But it certainly hasn't been the only thing to talk about. From a crowded primary to high profile support, from vast amounts of money raised and vast amounts of money lent, the race for the 9th has offered much to watch.

It's also looked a little like the general state of the country and the presidential election to Marvin Overby, a political science professor at the University of Missouri, Columbia.

"Take America and shrink wrap it and you get Missouri," Overby says. "And you take Missouri and shrink wrap it and you've got something that looks like the 9th district."

How it Started

From the beginning, Luetkemeyer has had the edge in the 9th, which twice elected George W. Bush for president and leans Republican. U.S. Rep. Kenny Hulshof was first elected in 1996, and in 2006 won with 61.44 percent of the vote. Before that, though, the district sat safely in Democrats' hands for 20 years with Harold Volkmer. Hulshof, now running for governor, opened up the seat with that announcement.

Baker beat three other Democrats, nearly all with much more mud on their boots, in the primary to represent this mostly rural district, which represents parts of St. Charles County, Columbia, Hannibal and parts that extend to the Illinois and Iowa borders.

Luetkemeyer had victory as well against four other Republicans, including a former MU football star, a Lake Saint Louis doctor and state rep, and others already involved in politics.

Soon, the two faced just each other.

And though they've talked about many ways to tackle important issues, from the war in Iraq to drilling for oil, both also have backgrounds that revolve around two major issues -- health care and the economy.

Baker's spoken often about that background, which includes working as a health-care consultant and managing partner at Cura Advantage.

And health care has been one of the main platforms on which she's run.

"Every other industrialized nation on the planet does it for nearly half of what we do it for," Baker told the Beacon in an October interview.

She supports allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices, preventive health care and proposes a combination of public and private insurance.

She also believes Congress should hold responsible the executives behind the financial mess and supports economic oversight and regulations. She supports offshore drilling as a bridge toward renewable energy independence, timetables for the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, then redirecting those troops to Afghanistan.

Baker did not return calls to speak with the Beacon about what issues she'd tackle first if elected.

Overby's been impressed with Baker's campaign and her ability to say on message about health care.

Particularly, he says, the mammogram ad will be remembered.

"That's the kind of ad that ideally you try to prevent," he says.

The ad specifically refers to house bill 1278, introduced in 2004, which would have eliminated state-required areas of coverage to reduce costs. That included mammograms. The bill didn't pass, and Luetkemeyer told KOMU it was an attempt to enact bare-bones health policy, now favored by several states.

"I find it personally disturbing, using your family members as campaign props," Overby adds. "But they do it because it works."

Luetkemeyer's also made good use of his background. The St. Elizabeth man was a member of the Missouri House of Representatives from 1998 to 2004, served as the director of Missouri Division of Tourism from 2006 until this year, and also owns the Luetkemeyer Insurance Agency. His family owns and operates the Bank of St. Elizabeth, where Luetkemeyer is a loan officer.

During his campaign, Luetkemeyer has cited the economy as a key issue, even before the current financial meltdown, and sees gas prices and drilling for domestic oil as parts of that issue. Luetkemeyer supports offshore drilling, believes the free-market approach is the best way to deal with health care, supports working with Pakistan to combat troubles in the Middle East but doesn't support a timeline for troop withdrawal, and believes some additional regulations are needed in the financial system.

If elected, he plans on tackling oil and gas and creating a national energy policy. Luetkemeyer doesn't like the financial bailout. "Pretty soon we'll nationalize everything," he says.

Instead, he'd work to restore confidence in the financial system by guaranteeing loans to shore up investments, punishing people in investment firms who misrepresented themselves and placing regulations back into the system.

Luetkemeyer hasn't done as good a job staying on message, Overby says, and many of those messages have had trouble gaining traction -- similar to those of Republican's nationally.

Follow the money

Generally, polls show Luetkemeyer with the advantage, and the Congressional Quarterly reports that the race leans Republican.

But the money involved in this election might say something different.

As of Oct. 15, Baker had raided $1.25 million, of which $911,394 came from individual contributions, $322,739 came from political action committees and $10,000 came from the candidate, according to the Federal Election Commission.

As of Oct. 15, Luetkemeyer raised $1.42 million, of which $350,724 came from individual contributions, $128,558 came from political action committees, $15,000 came from the Republican party and $920,000 came from the candidate.

One thing Baker's considerable donations show is that people who contribute money like to pick winners, thinks John Petrocik, professor and chair of the political science department at MU.

"Compared to the paltry amount of money that Luetkemeyer has been able to raise, in contrast, she's done very well," Overby agrees.

And, like the ability to stay on message, Overby thinks money raised is reflective of another national trend, "where Republicans are having a hard time raising money."

Baker hasn't been out on her own, though. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has her on its Red-to-Blue Program and promised serious financial backing. In 2006, they gave an average of $404,000 to candidates in the program, according to the DCCC.

And Luetkemeyer hasn't been on his own, either. In October, Vice President Dick Cheney attended a fundraiser in Clayton to support the candidate.

"We like where we're at," Luetkemeyer says of his chances of winning.

But, he adds, with things like the prospect of huge voter turnout, "you never know which way things are gonna break for you."

Chances are

Forget voter turn-out and personal connections with candidates. Voters tend to vote retrospectively, Petrocik says. But they don't reward candidates for successes, they punish them for failures.

Because of that, he thinks, Baker's in a good position to win in a district where she doesn't quite fit. 

She's poised, personal, attractive and young, he says. "All the things that you want a candidate to be ... she has the skills. I've known some congressmen over the years, and she would fit in the herd quite nicely."

Overby also likes her chances, though both say she could lose by a small margin. "I think she may end up being the right person in the right place at the right time."

Luetkemeyer, on the other hand, has had a lackluster campaign, Overby thinks, and has the general mood in the country against him. "It's just a bad year, and he is sailing into a significant headwind, even in a place like the 9th district."

So much about the race reflects national trends, Overby says.

And at this point, he thinks, it's going to be very close.

"It's turned out to be a very interesting time to be here in mid-Missouri."

Kristen Hare is a freelance writer in Lake St. Louis. 

Kristen Hare